There Is No 'Planet A'
A look at the beauty industry's empty climate activism.
The fossil fuel industry is the primary driver of climate change; it will end (is ending, has already ended) life as we know it on Earth. The beauty industry is a significant supporter of the fossil fuel industry, specifically through the use of plastics and petrochemicals. This combination of facts is what makes the mission of Planet A — a self-described “movement of brands committed to making climate cool,” made up of over 200 beauty and wellness companies — so confusing.
Allow me to explain.
Planet A, which originally operated under the name Code Red 4 Climate, was founded by Melanie Bender of Versed Skincare and Joe Cloyes of Youth to the People in 2021. Brands that have taken the Planet A climate “pledge” include Vintner’s Daughter, Glow Recipe, Keys Soul Care, Physicians Formula, Beautycounter, Dieux Skin, Cocokind, True Botanicals, e.l.f. Cosmetics, and many, many more. The organization appears to amplify its eco-centered messaging exclusively through Instagram.
“We have less than 9 years left to keep warming below 1.5C, a critical threshold for humankind,” its most recent caption declared in early May. “What unites us is the belief that humankind must act and the knowledge that it will take a marriage of individual and collective action to put ourselves back on the path to a stable climate. We choose to be part of that solution.”
That first part is true! If warming moves beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, the “the likelihood of catastrophic climate impacts increases significantly,” the New York Times reports, citing recent data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Times adds that “achieving that goal would require nations to all but eliminate their fossil-fuel emissions … and most are far off-track.”
The second part is lovely! But what “solution” is Planet A proposing, exactly? Its “pledge” appears to include a three-point promise:
We support the passage of critical climate policy from lawmakers.
We will work to take responsibility for the impacts of our businesses on climate
We will work to educate and inspire meaningful engagement within our companies and communities.
Again, lovely! And again… what? What does any of that mean? How does the organization define “take responsibility”? How does it measure the “impact of our businesses on climate”? How does it evaluate “meaningful engagement”? What are the actual, actionable steps these brands have “pledged” to take?
None of these details are publicly or readily available. I reached out to the organization via email, Instagram comment, and Instagram DM, hoping to get clarity on Planet A’s agenda: membership requirements, guidelines for how participating companies are reducing their environmental impact, success metrics, progress statistics, anything. As of publishing, I did not receive a response.
Based on Planet A’s site and socials, it seems the only concrete step it has taken since its inception is encouraging its followers to call Congress and demand that lawmakers “support climate action” in the following ways:
A Clean Electricity Payment Program that cuts emissions and modernizes our grid.
Directing 40% of funding to frontline communities.
Ending subsidies for fossil fuel corporations.
A Civilian Climate Corps that puts people to work.
I mean… cool! The government absolutely needs to take responsibility for the climate crisis. But so do corporations, and that is what’s missing from Planet A’s mission: in-organization corporate responsibility. Without that — without a plan for its 200+ beauty brands — Planet A is just another empty attempt at promoting “sustainability” without actually practicing it. It’s marketing, not a movement. It’s essentially asking followers to ask the government to regulate fossil fuels (which will require a protracted process of Congressional approval) without regulating its own usage of fossil fuels (which it could do literally right now). Why wait, when Planet A itself admits “we have less than nine years” to keep the planet habitable for human life? Why focus its efforts on the theoretical, eventual action of Congress rather than the specific, immediate action of its own brands? It feels a little “we’re all trying to find the guy who did this,” eh?
Since the beauty industry as-is has a significant and negative impact on the planet, the beauty industry could easily have a significant and positive impact on the planet by taking a few key steps.
Those steps include:
1. Degrowth. The exponential growth capitalism demands of consumer goods companies is not sustainable. I recently heard this economic model referred to as “extinction economics,” and I encourage everyone else to think of it this way, too — because we cannot keep growing and keep living. Any organization dedicated to “critical climate solutions,” as Planet A claims to be, must have a plan in place for degrowth (AKA, de-prioritizing the production and sale of more as a necessary metric of success). Planet A particularly needs to address degrowth for
mass market brands (like founder Bender’s Versed Skincare, which is sold at Target; and Physician’s Formula, which is available at convenience stores like Walgreens and CVS nationwide), and
brands owned or funded by mega-conglomerates (like Cloyes’ Youth to the People, which was recently acquired by L’Oreal; and Saie Beauty, frank body, and True Botanicals, which are all funded by Unilever Ventures — yes, the same Unilever that was ranked the #3 “corporate plastic polluter fueling the climate crisis” in 2021),
as the domination of a global or national market is completely incompatible with climate action. (I wrote a bit more about L’Oreal’s acquisition of Youth to the People and the importance of small businesses serving small communities here.)
2. Phasing out plastics. The fossil fuel industry has been engaged in an “aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis” for over a century, according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is currently leading an investigation into the plastics crisis. The cosmetic industry contributes significantly to that crisis, producing “up to 120 billion units of plastics packaging” per year. Recycling cannot and will not solve the problem. (The US only recycles 5% of its plastic waste.) These materials must be phased out. An effective phase-out should not simply replace plastics with other materials — rather, it should involve both product degrowth and packaging innovation: the consolidation of packing materials, the prioritization of local vendors to cut down on shipping materials, doing away with “unboxing” experiences, and more.
3. Discontinuing the use of petrochemical ingredients. Planet A is calling on Congress to “end subsidies for fossil fuel corporations” — yet so many of Planet A’s brands “subsidize” fossil fuel corporations through the use of petrochemicals, including:
petrolatum / petroleum jelly
PEGs (polyethylene glycol compounds)
Butyls (butyl alcohol, butylene glycol, etc.)
Propyls (isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, etc.)
It’s almost impossible to find a Planet A brand that doesn’t formulate with the above ingredients — meaning, it is almost impossible to find a Planet A brand that doesn’t financially support the fossil fuel industry.
While petrochemicals are technically byproducts of fossil fuels, recent data shows that byproducts aren’t innocent of environmental harm. Byproducts are the oil industry’s “next major growth market,” CNBC reports. The outlet predicts that “every year through 2050, there will be 10 million metric tons of growth in the market for petrochemicals.” The increase in petrochemical production can be attributed to the decrease in fuel demand, as world leaders focus on funding clean energy options. In other words: As the fossil fuel industry ramps down fuel production, it’s ramping up petrochemical production to make up for any financial losses. As such, divesting from fossil fuels — which, again, we have to do if we want the planet to remain habitable — must include divesting from petrochemicals.
There are many who try to downplay the importance of this particular action item — including those within the Planet A organization — using arguments like, “Fossil fuels are used in everything in the beauty industry, even the machines that harvest natural ingredients, so why bother?” (At least, I think that’s the argument they use; it’s a bit hard to understand them with the oil industry’s dick in their mouths like that!)
Let me be clear: If this were a valid argument, no progress would be made, ever, in any field, and we might as well roll over and die right now to spare ourselves the coming decade of life-threatening climate disasters. Luckily, it is not a valid argument. It isn’t the beauty industry’s responsibility to pioneer clean energy options for farm equipment; it’s the beauty industry responsibility to reduce the beauty industry’s environmental impact.
If Planet A and its brands were to rescind their support of the fossil fuel industry by formulating without fossil fuel byproducts, it would be a huge step forward for the planet. (Again, this is a non-negotiable point anyway! Humankind has to divest from fossil fuels in order to mitigate climate disaster! If we still exist in 50 years, petrochemicals will not. The climate science is very clear on this. We might as well figure out how to formulate without them now. We have no other option.)
Of course, taking action in the above ways would cut into these beauty brands’ profits. But profits don’t matter on a dead planet — and as Planet A knows, we are careening closer and closer to that possibility every day. We do not have time for these companies’ well-intentioned but ultimately empty displays of climate concern. Corporations should not wait — and crucially, do not have to wait — for Congress to take action in order to make a difference.
Any meaningful pledge from Planet A must address the above three points — degrowth, plastics, and petrochemicals — otherwise, it isn’t a pledge. It’s propaganda.
This is a call to Planet A, in Planet A’s own words: “You must act. Now.”
For readers who would like to encourage Planet A to act now, I’ve drafted the below script — based on Planet A’s own script for calling Congress! — for you to copy, paste, and send them via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Instagram DM, or Instagram comment on any of their posts.
“Hi, I am a beauty consumer concerned about the industry’s impact on the planet. I want to ask Planet A to support critical climate solutions in the following 3 key ways:
A publicly-available plan for degrowth, particularly addressing the Planet A brands owned and funded by global conglomerates
A publicly-available plan for phasing out plastics, particularly in packaging materials
A publicly-available plan for rescinding your support of the fossil fuel industry, through discontinuing the use of petrochemicals in your products
The bottom line is we must act now to meet the climate crisis head on. Thank you.”
OK, what about after that?
Share this article and/or script with five of your friends and ask them to join you in action.
Is there anything else I can do??
Particularly passionate readers can send this script to any of the 200+ beauty and wellness companies affiliated with Planet A. You can find a list of them here.
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